Michael Olajide Jr. is a trainer like no other – he is a fighter born through a baptism of fire. At the age of sixteen, he had fought his way out of his father’s boxing gym and into the ring of some of New York’s biggest heavy- hitters. He fought his way through amateur matches, slugged it out with ambitious contenders, and challenged hungry fighters for a shot at the World Title. His natural abilities earned him the nickname ‘The Silk’ and his effortless showmanship garnered the attention of legendary trainer and coach to Muhammed Ali, Angelo Dundee. But as a champion in the making, his journey through rings and arenas would end abruptly in a devastating training accident that would cost him his sight, and eventually, his boxing career. After years of fight-night preparation and savage training schedules, Olajide Jr’s future seemed to have ended the moment a sparring opponent struck his eye. But the young fighter acquired one invaluable skill on the training floors – the fighting instinct, and he was determined for this end to mark a new beginning.
Drawing upon his experience as a fighter, Olajide Jr developed and pioneered a system of boxing that reinvented the fitness world. Endorsed by supermodels like Adriana Lima and Doutzen Kroes, his system of boxing-inspired toning and cardio workouts have been credited as the force behind the superhuman bodies that walk the Victoria Secret’s runway. In a candid interview with the New York based fighter, teacher and coach, we speak with Olajide Jr about boxing, adversity, and how sometimes, champions are not born, but made.
Michael Olajide Jr
Silk, twice as sweet as chocolate milk.
I turned pro out of necessity. I was born in Liverpool, England but moved to Canada when I was about 8 years old. My father had a boxing gym, and I must have been about 15 years old when I started. For most boxers that would be considered kind of a late start, and it wasn’t the most glamourous of beginnings, but I ascended very quickly to the top. Madison Square Garden had seen a fight of mine and they said, ‘we’d like to have you become one of our exclusive fighters’. So they brought me to New York and I fought Vegas and Salt Lake City. I even fought on TV stations like NBC. I was the number one contender in the world. I’d won the KE title, WBC intercontinental and people were seeing me as the next Cassius Clay. It was a really beautiful experience.
My father called me ‘The Silk’. He saw the way I moved, the way I boxed and went with the flow, and said, ‘you’re like silk’. It was funny because I fought for the first time in Atlantic City. There was a gentleman there called Gus, I forget his last name. He found out my nickname and he asked me ‘can I make a sign for you for your fight?’, and I said, yeah, so he came to the next one with a sign that said silk, twice as sweet as chocolate milk on it. It was only him waving the banner but it was funny, we had a good time back in the days.
THE POWER IN YOUR CORNER
Michael Olajide Jr
You can be a great boxer, you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the focus, precision and coaching of a good trainer, you will lose.
Your trainer are your eyes outside the ring, He’ll tell you what the other guy is doing. if he can’t do that for you, you don’t have a good trainer, and you’re not going to win.
I saw so much talent out there that rivaled Ali or Sugar Ray Leonard. These guys had extremely fast hands, they could take a great punch and hit hard. But, without the focus of a good trainer they just didn’t succeed.
I remember when I first met Angelo. I knew Angelo from his work with Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. Angelo wasn’t your conventional trainer. He didn’t develop you from scratch, but he would come in to accentuate your strengths. I was fighting a guy on NBC, we were both undefeated. His fighter and I were both 23. My father was in my corner and Angelo was in the other fighter’s corner. His fighter was shorter than me, and as a result, had a lower reach. I had one of the best jabs in boxing, so I was like, ‘dude, no way this guy’s going to out-jab me’.
But he was so intelligent. He timed it, and told his kid, ‘every time he throws a jab, I want you to move your head to the left and throw a jab at the same time’. This nullified my reach advantage and in fact, it frustrated me because I was getting hit by a shorter guys reach. He was just so brilliant. He understood the nature of the fighter and could recognise his weaknesses only to build them up. He was amazing.
THE KILLER INSTINCT
Michael Olajide Jr
You might have a bomb but if you don’t know how to drop it, it does you no good.
A lot of guys have what I call ‘the bomb’. They can punch really hard, but it is a matter of getting that bomb from point A to point B. If you can’t detonate it in the right spot, it doesn’t matter. You might have a bomb but if you don’t know how to drop it, it does you no good. So that’s like the analogy of boxing. Timing is the most important element in our lives. Fighters like Ali and Leonard and Roy Jones had a great sense of timing. When that bell rang they understood what that meant. They knew what the other fighter was feeling and they understood what they were up against. They had a complete understanding of the moment they were in and what they had to do – when to ride it out and wait, and when to strike. It’s funny because it is the same thing that I had a problem with as a fighter – timing and having that sense for the moment.
Michael Olajide Jr
You know you were born a fighter, so you always feel you have a fighting chance.
I guess it was in the mid-80s about 86, when my eye left me.
It was about mid-way through my career when I was injured in a sparring match. I hurt my eye and that affected my performance from there. I just started losing – I was getting hit more than I should have, and I was losing fights I shouldn’t have lost. But I was in New York to box, so I had to try and hide the injury and continue to compete as best as I could. That was what I always wanted to do, so I had to adapt. But when you have double vision and you have boxers punching at you, it’s crazy. It’s like you’re looking through a rifle with your sight on it, but when you have two sights all of a sudden, which one do you pick?
I did compete for the world title a couple of times but the fighters were just too great -their reflexes were so fast, they all hit hard, they didn’t get tired and it got really rough. I couldn’t get past their abilities. I just thought that I’d be able to adapt to the situation. You know you were born a fighter, so you always feel you have a fighting chance. You say to yourself, ‘I know the fight’s going to be hard, I know I’m going to get hit, but I know that as soon as I hit the guy, I will get the chance to end the fight’. I was still absolutely confident in my ability to win a world title. But then there came a time where it became really abusive, and a fighter knows when they don’t have it anymore. Once your vision is off, you’re punching blind, swinging, and just hoping for the best. So as soon as my eye left me, that changed my fight game. I just ended up on the wrong side of the punches too many times, but it led to something extremely great.
COME OUT SWINGING
Michael Olajide Jr
Adapt or die. You have to adapt and turn situations to your advantage, and then you have to persist.
Every fighter has a different set of strength and weakness. I consider the ability to adapt as one of my greatest strengths. You have to have a fight plan for every situation. I have a saying it’s ‘AOD’, adapt or die. You have to adapt and turn situations to your advantage, and then you have to persist. If you don’t adapt you’re fighting against the current. I do believe the ability to adapt is a very important quality in life. Everybody has their own opinion, their own way of doing things, and conflict is natural. But it is how you face, absorb, deflect or get around conflict that is key. Now that I think about it, I can say that this is a skill I have taken away from my boxing career. I see that I am still doing the same thing. Now when it gets down to the tough stuff, I feel like I really understand what it takes to make it to that next level.
I’m a slow burner. I always got stronger as the fight went on
How a fighter moves, punches, takes a punch, or how he reacts to aggression, tells you all about an individual’s personality strengths and weaknesses. There was a lot of frustration and regret involved when my boxing career ended. But I had to take the next leap. As soon as a fighter’s confidence goes, as soon as they second guess themselves, or hesitate, they lose. I think that’s in pretty much any business and any sport.
I remember when I started teaching boxing fitness in ’91 and it just didn’t exist. I had come out with this programme, and it was shadow boxing with a jump rope. No one else in the world was doing anything like that. Then gradually, it started to catch on and then celebrities started to come in, and that, of course, gave it a great boost. Then in 2007, first Doutzen Kroes came to the gym and Adriana Lima. As soon as Adriana came, and as soon as the workout got the blessing of the models, everybody did it.
You have to have that self awareness, that confidence of knowing that you’re right, that you cannot be denied.
I used to wake up aware of some new weakness of sort; something repressed that I felt I could improve on. I was always fixing things through regret, thinking why didn’t I do this, why didn’t I do that. I did battle with these thoughts every day. But one thing that helped was becoming a teacher. To teach is to learn, and when I teach I’m learning. I learn about myself and I learn about people. I’m so blessed to be a teacher. Now, when I workout I work out with a different purpose. It’s not to compete anymore, it is to feel good – to nurture myself, to nurture my body, and to nurture my soul. When I move and learn, I feel I’m able to find peace and any regrets I have fall to the wayside.
SHOP THE STYLE
Getting lost and finding your pace with Satisfy Running
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Follow Michael Olajide’s story at @elcuerpodepapi
Photography by Sincere